Post screening Q&A, with filmmakers, from left, Alan Semerdjian, Chanel Tossounian, Bryan Firks, Gary Gananian, and moderator Nana Shakhnazaryan (photo Yu Jian)

A Variety of Styles On View at 2021 AGBU Film Screenings


NEW YORK — The 2021 AGBU Fifth Annual Short Film Screenings highlighted a new generation of filmmakers. Each year, the AGBU screens five or six promising shorts.  This year’s films, screened in October at Lincoln Center, showcased emerging filmmakers at ease behind the camera, taking on themes that reflect a wide range of interests— all were technically superb. Themes included social media abuse, caring for the aged, a mysterious landscape where a painting comes to life, and more traditionally Armenian themes such as the Medz Yeghern. Kudos to AGBU Performing Arts Director Hayk Arsenyan and his Selection Committee, who yearly have the challenging job of selecting from a variety of cinematic styles.

Opening Remarks, AGBU Performing Arts Director Hayk Arsenyan (photo Yu Jian)
  • “An Armenian Triptych: Retracing Our Steps,” marks the second collaboration between a
    Ara Bajakian

    talented trio of artists: musician Aram Bajakian, fine artist Kevork Mourad, and poet Alan Semerdjian. As a team they make elegant, poetic work that incorporates history, memory and the longing for a partly unknown and unknowable past. The present work is an ode to their grandfathers, all three of whom were both artists and genocide survivors. As Semerdjian reads a lovingly crafted poem, Mourad draws a world of Armenian things past: a door with Armenian carvings, an interior redolent of the orient. The work is touching and an interesting experiment in taking video and moving it to the big screen.

Alan Semerdjian during the post screening Q&A (photo Yu Jian)
  • Bryan Firks’ “Older Posts” takes us into the dark world of an aging social media influencer who wishes to be young  again — but when her wish is granted, her posts decay into gruesome disfigurations. Like Dorian Grey, she too learns that inordinate love of self is ultimately destructive. This modern primer on hubris shows much promise and a definite cinematic point of view.
Filmmaker Bryan Firks during the post screening Q&A (photo Yu Jian)
  • Nora Ananyan’s “What We Can Still Do” takes the viewer into a hospice center where a daughter cares for her aging mother. It’s a touching film that uses static shots and close ups to show a loving mother-daughter bond. It’s particularly pertinent given the aging population in most Western countries — a problem that all must face sooner or later.
Nora Ananyan
  • Painter Carl Milton is haunted by recurring nightmares in Nina Kotyantz’s “Phantom Valley.” A black wolf materializes from one of his sketches and leads him to an abandoned farmhouse and a mysterious old medicine woman. The woman and her farmhouse resemble his nightmares so much that he accepts to stay with her. It’s a land caught between life and death. The film is beautifully shot, with an open-ended resolution that leaves the viewer wondering how to interpret what he has just seen.
Nina Kotyantz
  • Chanel Tossounian’s documentary short “Look Up” quite correctly diagnoses social media obsession as a current societal ailment — among both young and old. We follow two young women and listen to them self-diagnose: we’d love to see Chanel follow up on this theme in the future.
  • Gary Gananian’s “No Thanks” is a beautifully shot piece about three friends partaking in a lighthearted drug-induced romp. Gananian certainly has a future making fashion videos if that is what he is aiming for: with a scripted version of this film, he might have something truly dazzling on his hands.
Filmmaker Gary Gananian, from Brazil, during the post screening Q&A (photo Yu Jian)

Arsenyan noted: “It’s such a gratifying feeling to host an in-person event again, and especially returning to the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The films encompass an entire spectrum of styles, themes, and languages. The idea is to showcase Armenian talent within the larger scope of the global arts.” Part of fun in attending this type of screening is trying to imagine which filmmakers will break through and become tomorrow’s new cinematic stars.

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Topics: AGBU, Short Films
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